New semiconductor materials could mean 50% less energy loss in switched-mode power supplies for PCs, flat-screen televisions, servers and telecommunications systems and could make solar inverters even more compact and cost-efficient. The partner companies of the research project “NeuLand” have developed highly-integrated components and electronic circuits which made it possible to reduce energy loss in circuits by 35% as early as during tests in ongoing research activities. The NeuLandproject was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) with a total of approximately Euro 4.7 million. The NeuLand project was directed Infineon Technologies.
Key to cutting energy losses in half
The key to reducing energy losses by half is use of the semiconductor materials silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride on silicon (GaN-on-Si), whose electronic properties enable compact and efficient power electronics circuits. Today Infineon already uses the material SiC in its JFETs and diodes for the 600V to 1700V voltage class. These power semiconductors are primarily used in switched-mode power supplies for PCs or televisions and in motor drives. In the future they may also gain major significance for solar inverters. In future, also solar inverters could considerably profit.
Before NeuLand, SiC was a very expensive wafer material. Thanks to the results of NeuLand research there are now more SiC vendors and the number of possible applications has grown. The project partners were able to demonstrate that the efficiency of power electronics can be increased by more than a third using SiC and GaN-based components. Solar inverters for example profit from considerable material savings with no change in effectiveness, making them even more cost-efficient. However, results also showed that the cost of SiC components will have to drop even more for the wide-scale application in solar inverters and that for GaN-based components further intensive research is required on reliability, service lifetime and costs.
AIXTRON was represented as an equipment provider for semiconductor production, while as a wafer manufacturer SiCrystal was on board for SiC. The semiconductor manufacturer Infineon researched the power semiconductor devices and the production steps for SiC and GaN-based components, while the system technology expertise in the solar sector was provided by SMA Solar Technology. With NeuLand the project partners were able to further expand their respective proficiencies in future-oriented SiC and GaN technologies along a very wide segment of the value creation chain.
NeuLand is an abbreviation from the German for “Innovative power devices with high-energy efficiency and cost effectiveness based on wide bandgap compound semiconductors.” The three-year research project was funded by the BMBF as a part of the call for proposals on ”Power Electronics for Energy Efficiency Enhancement” (LES) in the German Federal Government’s program ”IKT 2020 – Research for Innovation”. The objective of IKT 2020 is to strengthen Germany’s leading position in electronic technologies.